Unless you are like the German pilgrim by the name of Prosper, who died en route, and whose memorial stands by the roadside between Sarria and Portomarin, you have to return home from Santiago. Our original plan was to catch the ferry from Gijon on Friday 27th. But the ferry was fully booked, so a long drive proved necessary.
Our first day on the return (25 June) took us along the pilgrimage route known as the Camino del Norte, in reverse. This cuts overland and then follows the north coast of Spain. Few pilgrims come to Santiago this way, and they are said to be a more adventurous breed. Maybe. We saw hardly any of them. There is a fine motorway all along the coast, flying across valleys on spectacular viaducts, then burrowing through hills and under villages through innumerable tunnels.
Bilbao is bypassed by a series of incredibly long tunnels, yet hardly any vehicles seem to use the road. We encountered two different tolling systems. One, where you put money into a slot to make the gate open. Then one where you took a ticket and paid at the next toll gate. All very confusing, and nothing to explain.
We stayed the first night in Donostia, better known as San Sebastián. This is a large seaside town, with two beaches and new and old towns on opposite sides of a river. Hotel Record, really a B&B, was simple and comfortable. The receptionist was in the middle of walking to The Camino and had got as far as Gijon in the first week. She'll continue later. She recommended a couple of good streets for bars serving pinkos, and we ate in a small restaurant nearby. Great breakfast. Good wifi.
26 June. Busy motorway from San Sebastián across the French border near Bayonne. French motorway tolls are easier to understand. We rattled on through Bordeaux, then took the non toll motorway via Angouleme and Poitiers. Our second night's stop was at Azay-le-Rideau, a small town on the Indre river, with a spectacular chateau that we plan to visit in the morning. The hotel is called Les Trois Lys. The room was cheap, but is comfortable. However it has no view, just looks onto a sort of light well in the middle of the building. After exploring the town, we decided to eat at the hotel. The staff were friendly and charming, but overworked. The only waitress was having to double as hotel receptionist. This lent whole place a Fawly-esque air. The food was OK but not outstanding. My main was a cassoulet consisting of andouillettes done in a red wine sauce.
Our third and final day of the journey back to the Channel (27 June) started with a visit to Azay-le-Rideaux's beautiful chateau. It is surrounded by water and a landscaped park. In the old days, nobility had to be ready to receive the king as a guest. Louis XIII stayed here two nights and they still have the royal bed on display. Beautiful woodwork in the chateau's attic, with oak beams cut from the forest in 1518.
There are dozens of bars and restaurants around the basin and in the narrow streets nearby. I wanted to try Tripes a la mode de Caen. Only two or three seemed to serve it, such was the dominance of fish and seafood on the menus. We ate at L'Hippocampe (seahorse). The Tripes were excellent.
Saturday 28th June. Our ferry from Le Havre was at 12.30. Leaving Honfleur about 9am we stopped at a supermarket to stock up on some French products. I was amused that 'trompettes de mort', a kind of mushroom known in English as 'horn of plenty', were labelled euphemistically as 'trompettes de Maure'. They are like black chanterelles. To get to Le Havre, we had to cross the Seine estuary by the magnificent Pont de Normandie. Le Havre is a huge container port - "la Porte de Europe' it calls itself. The town centre is post war, so I guess it was heavily bombed. At the far end of the town is a rather stony beach, where we parked and had a walk and a coffee. There are hundreds of beach huts, all painted white.
I can recommend Brittany Ferries. Their fast ferry to Portsmouth was very comfortable. We got seats at the front with a great view ahead. Good meal deal at the cafeteria too.
The drive back to St Ives took 3 hours with some slow traffic on the A3 and M25. We stopped by the allotment to pick a lettuce and some rasps, and survey the landscape. The whole place was under water. George told us it had rained solidly for 4 hours during the afternoon.
Back at the house, we were greeted by balloons, a bottle of bubbly and a huge 'congratulations' banner, and a jungle in the back garden!